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Republicans Concerned About Bush's Low Approval Ratings


Two recent public opinion polls show President Bush's approval ratings in the low to mid-30s, and those low numbers are a major concern for Republicans hoping to hold onto control of Congress in midterm elections in November.

Opposition Democrats are growing increasingly confident of gains in the upcoming congressional midterm election, and some political analysts believe it is possible that Democrats could retake control of either the Senate or House of Representatives.

Historically, the party that controls both the White House and Congress tends to suffer losses during a president's second term.

But Republicans are also worried that President Bush's low public approval ratings and continuing concern about Iraq could hurt their efforts to keep control of both the House and Senate.

President Bush has vowed to stick to his second term agenda and ignore the polls.

"I hear voices of discontent and I am just going to do the best I can do based on what I think is right," he said. "There is too much flattery, too much ego, too much criticism, too much noise, too much politics, too much that, for a president to kind of grope his way around looking at the latest public opinion poll. In my judgment, it does not serve the nation well."

Democrats need to gain six seats to retake control of the Senate and 15 seats to win back the House.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California leads House Democrats and is hoping to become the first woman speaker of the House should Democrats regain control.

She spoke on NBC's Meet the Press program.

"Our party is standing for honest leadership and open government," she said. "We will turn the most corrupt Congress in history into the most honest and open Congress and maybe it will take a woman to clean up the House."

A Democratic takeover in either the House or Senate would allow Democratic committee chairmen to initiate congressional inquiries on a range of issues, including the use of intelligence prior to the Iraq war and the high cost of fuel at home.

The president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, warns about the prospect of Democrat inspired investigations as one way of motivating Republicans in advance of the November congressional elections.

But many Republican candidates for the Senate and House may have to put some distance between themselves and the president.

Jennifer Palmieri worked in the Clinton administration and is now with the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based public policy research group.

"And the problem for Bush is that the longer his public approval ratings stay in the 30's, the more concerned Republican members of Congress become about associating themselves with him," she said.

Public concern about Iraq and gas prices at home also presents challenges for the Republicans.

Norman Ornstein is an expert on Congress and the presidency at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. He appeared on VOA's Talk to America program.

"But what has happened in the last couple of months is that Republicans, including a lot of the president's base, are becoming unhappy and disillusioned," he noted. "The immigration issue in particular is going to, I think, continue to create those divisions."

The president likes to say he ignores public opinion polls. But under new chief of staff Josh Bolten, the Bush White House responded quickly to the latest spike in fuel prices and that has some Republicans hopeful about a turnaround in public support.

"Bush has to do a number of things, which he is beginning to do," said Stephen Wayne, a political scientist at Georgetown University in Washington. "Number one, he is listening to people and he is taking questions and he is admitting, you know, I feel your pain, I know you are going through some hard times. Two, he is trying to bring some new people into the White House to change his public persona."

Local issues often decide congressional elections, even when one or both major parties try to nationalize the political stakes.

But many analysts believe this year could bring some upheaval in Congress if Republicans remain downbeat about their prospects.

"In midterm elections, it is all about [voter] turnout," said analyst Norman Ornstein. "And if Republicans are just not all that enthusiastic and don't turn out in greater than average numbers, Democrats, who are very unhappy, are going to turn out in substantial numbers and that could make the difference between having a majority and losing a majority."

All 435 House seats will be up for election in November, even though only about 40 to 50 races are seen as genuinely competitive. In addition, 33 of the 100 Senate seats will be contested.